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Thursday, August 8, 2019

When Truman Failed to Pause in 1945--and the War Crime That Followed



By August 7, 1945, President Truman, while still at sea returning from Potsdam, had been fully briefed on the first atomic attack against a large city in Japan the day before.  In announcing it, he had labeled Hiroshima simply a "military base," but he knew better, and within hours of the blast he had been fully informed about the likely massive toll on civilians (probably 100,000), mainly women and children, as we had planned.  Despite this--and news that the Soviets, as planned, were about to enter the war against Japan--Truman did not order a delay in the use of the second atomic bomb to give Japan a chance to assess, reflect, and surrender.

After all, by this time, Truman (as recorded in his diary and by others) was well aware that the Japanese were hopelessly defeated and seeking terms of surrender--and he had, just two weeks earlier, written "Fini Japs" in his diary when he learned that the Russians would indeed attack around August 7.  Yet Truman, on this day, did nothing, and the second bomb rolled out, and would be used against Nagasaki, killing perhaps 90,000 more, only a couple hundred of them Japanese troops, on August 9.  That's why many who reluctantly support or at least are divided about the use of the bomb against Hiroshima consider Nagasaki a war crime--in fact, the worst one-day war crime in human history.

Below, a piece I wrote not long ago.  One of my books on the atomic bombings describes my visit to Nagasaki at length.
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Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, even though it is one of only two cities in the world to "meet the atomic bomb," as some of the survivors of that experience, 68 years ago this week, put it.  It remains the Second City, and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one in America ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. "We are an asterisk," Shinji Takahashi, a sociologist in Nagasaki, once told me, with a bitter smile. "The inferior A-Bomb city."

Yet in many ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-Bomb city, the city with perhaps the most meaning for us today. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

And then there's this. "The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable," Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, "but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki" -- which he labeled a war crime. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who experienced the firebombing of Dresden at close hand, said much the same thing. "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki," he once said. "Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I'm glad I'm not a scientist because I'd feel so guilty now."

A beautiful city dotted with palms largely built on terraces surrounding a deep harbor--the San Francisco of Japan -- Nagasaki has a rich, bloody history, as any reader of Shogun knows. Three centuries before Commodore Perry came to Japan, Nagasaki was the country's gateway to the west. The Portuguese and Dutch settled here in the 1500s. St. Francis Xavier established the first Catholic churches in the region in 1549, and Urakami, a suburb of Nagasaki, became the country's Catholic center. Thomas Glover, one of the first English traders here, supplied the modern rifles that helped defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 19th century.

Glover's life served as a model for the story of Madame Butterfly, and Nagasaki is known in many parts of the world more for Butterfly than for the bomb. In Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, standing on the veranda of Glover's home overlooking the harbor (see left), sings, "One fine day, we'll see a thread of smoke arising.... " If she could have looked north from the Glover mansion, now Nagasaki's top tourist attraction, on August 9, 1945, she would have seen, two miles in the distance, a thread of smoke with a mushroom cap.

By 1945, Nagasaki had become a Mitsubishi company town, turning out ships and armaments for Japan's increasingly desperate war effort. Few Japanese soldiers were stationed here, and only about 250 of them would perish in the atomic bombing. It was still the Christian center in the country, with more than 10,000 Catholics among its 250,000 residents. Most of them lived in the outlying Urakami district, the poor part of town, where a magnificent cathedral seating 6000 had been built.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, "Fat Man" was detonated more than a mile off target, almost directly over the Urakami Cathedral, which was nearly leveled, killing dozens of worshippers waiting for confession. Concrete roads in the valley literally melted.

While Urakami suffered, the rest of the city caught a break. The bomb's blast boomed up the valley destroying everything in its path but didn't quite reach the congested harbor or scale the high ridge to the Nakashima valley. Some 35,000 perished instantly, with another 50,000 or more fated to die afterwards. The plutonium bomb hit with the force of 22 kilotons, almost double the uranium bomb's blast in Hiroshima.

If the bomb had exploded as planned, directly over the Mitsubishi shipyards, the death toll in Nagasaki would have made Hiroshima, in at least one important sense, the Second City. Nothing would have escaped, perhaps not even the most untroubled conscience half a world away.

Hard evidence to support a popular theory that the chance to "experiment" with the plutonium bomb was the major reason for the bombing of Nagasaki remains sketchy but still one wonders (especially when visiting the city, as I recount in my new book) about the overwhelming, and seemingly thoughtless, impulse to automatically use a second atomic bomb even more powerful than the first.

Criticism of the attack on Nagasaki has centered on the issue of why Truman did not step in and stop the second bomb after the success of the first to allow Japan a few more days to contemplate surrender before targeting another city for extinction. In addition, the U.S. knew that its ally, the Soviet Union, would join the war within hours, as previously agreed, and that the entrance of Japan's most hated enemy, as much as the Hiroshima bomb, would likely speed the surrender ("fini Japs" when the Russians declare war, Truman had predicted in his diary). If that happened, however, it might cost the U.S. in a wider Soviet claim on former Japanese conquests in Asia. So there was much to gain by getting the war over before the Russians advanced. Some historians have gone so far as state that the Nagasaki bomb was not the last shot of World War II but the first blow of the Cold War.

Whether this is true or not, there was no presidential directive specifically related to dropping the second bomb. The atomic weapons in the U.S. arsenal, according to the July 2, 1945 order, were to be used "as soon as made ready," and the second bomb was ready within three days of Hiroshima. Nagasaki was thus the first and only victim of automated atomic warfare.

In one further irony, Nagasaki was not even on the original target list for A-bombs but was added after Secretary of War Henry Stimson objected to Kyoto. He had visited Kyoto himself and felt that destroying Japan's cultural capital would turn the citizens against America in the aftermath. Just like that, tens of thousands in one city were spared and tens of thousands of others elsewhere were marked for death.

General Leslie Groves, upon learning of the Japanese surrender offer after the Nagasaki attack, decided that the "one-two" strategy had worked, but he was pleased to learn the second bomb had exploded off the mark, indicating "a smaller number of casualties than we had expected." But as historian Martin Sherwin has observed, "If Washington had maintained closer control over the scheduling of the atomic bomb raids the annihilation of Nagasaki could have been avoided." Truman and others simply did not care, or to be charitable, did not take care.

That's one reason the US suppressed all film footage shot in Nagasaki and Hiroshima for decades (which I probe in my book and ebook Atomic Cover-up).

After hearing of Nagasaki, however, Truman quickly ordered that no further bombs be used without his express permission, to give Japan a reasonable chance to surrender--one bomb, one city, and seventy thousand deaths too late. When they'd learned of the Hiroshima attack, the scientists at Los Alamos generally expressed satisfaction that their work had paid off. But many of them took Nagasaki quite badly. Some would later use the words "sick" or "nausea" to describe their reaction.

As months and then years passed, few Americans denounced as a moral wrong the targeting of entire cities for extermination. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, declared that we never should have hit Japan "with that awful thing." The left-wing writer Dwight MacDonald cited America's "decline to barbarism" for dropping "half-understood poisons" on a civilian population. His conservative counterpart, columnist and magazine editor David Lawrence, lashed out at the "so-called civilized side" in the war for dropping bombs on cities that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

However much we rejoice in victory, he wrote, "we shall not soon purge ourselves of the feeling of guilt which prevails among us.... What a precedent for the future we have furnished to other nations even less concerned than we with scruples or ideals! Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done. If we state our inner thoughts honestly, we are ashamed of it."

Greg Mitchell's books and ebooks include "Hollywood Bomb" and "Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made." Email: epic1934@aol.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Hiroshima: The Day After

As noted yesterday, President Truman's announcement to the nation--in which he carefully IDed Hiroshima only as a "military base," not a large city--broke the news of both the invention of an atomic bomb and its first use in war.  By that evening, radio commentators were weighing in with observations that often transcended Truman's announcement, suggesting that the public imagination was outrunning the official story. Contrasting emotions of gratification and anxiety had already emerged. H.V. Kaltenhorn warned, "We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we use today can be turned against us."

It wasn't until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government's press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S. newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed by the Pentagon several hours after the president's announcement. They carried headlines such as: "Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden Cities" and "New Age Ushered."

Many of them written by one man: W.L. Laurence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, "embedded" with the atomic project. General Leslie Groves, military director of the Manhattan Project, would later reflect, with satisfaction, that "most newspapers published our releases in their entirety. This is one of the few times since government releases have become so common that this has been done."

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the nuclear narrative. It would not take long, however, for breaks in the official story to appear.

At first, journalists had to follow where the Pentagon led. Wartime censorship remained in effect, and there was no way any reporter could reach Hiroshima for a look around. One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced, "has been an overwhelming success."

The sailors were said to be "uproarious" over the news. "I guess I'll get home sooner now," was a typical response. Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!"

On Aug. 7, military officials confirmed that Hiroshima had been devastated: at least 60% of the city wiped off the map. They offered no casualty estimates, emphasizing instead that the obliterated area housed major industrial targets. The Air Force provided the newspapers with an aerial photograph of Hiroshima. Significant targets were identified by name. For anyone paying close attention there was something troubling about this picture. Of the 30 targets, only four were specifically military in nature. "Industrial" sites consisted of three textile mills. (Indeed, a U.S. survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10% of the city's manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities damaged.)

On Guam, weaponeer William S. Parsons and Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets calmly answered reporters' questions, limiting their remarks to what they had observed after the bomb exploded. Asked how he felt about the people down below at the time of detonation, Parsons said that he experienced only relief that the bomb had worked and might be "worth so much in terms of shortening the war."

Almost without exception newspaper editorials endorsed the use of the bomb against Japan. Many of them sounded the theme of revenge first raised in the Truman announcement. Most of them emphasized that using the bomb was merely the logical culmination of war. "However much we deplore the necessity," the Washington Post observed, "a struggle to the death commits all combatants to inflicting a maximum amount of destruction on the enemy within the shortest span of time." The Post added that it was "unreservedly glad that science put this new weapon at our disposal before the
end of the war."

Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune commented: "Being merciless, they were merciful." A drawing in the same newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in its beak.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

74 Years Ago: Truman Began the Story of Hiroshima With a Lie

I have posted or linked to a number of my pieces related to the atomic bombings here at this blog over the past two weeks (having covered it for three decades and written two books about it).   For now I will direct you below to  how President Truman's announcement of the bombing of Hiroshima, 74 years ago today, launched the nuclear age with several lies, including describing the large city, filled mainly with women and children, as only a "military base."  Also: the bomb was merely a much bigger version of conventional explosives, with radiation effects not mentioned. See more here for the fascinating story of how the statement was written and edited.
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On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry S. Truman faced the task of telling the press, and the world, that America’s crusade against fascism had culminated in exploding a revolutionary new weapon of extraordinary destructive power over a Japanese city.

It was vital that this event be understood as a reflection of dominant military power and at the same time consistent with American decency and concern for human life. Everyone involved in preparing the presidential statement sensed that the stakes were high, for this marked the unveiling of both the atomic bomb and the official narrative of Hiroshima.

When the astonishing news emerged that morning, exactly 74 years ago, it took the form of a routine press release, a little more than a thousand words long. President Truman was at sea a thousand miles away, returning from the Potsdam conference. The Soviet Union was hours from declaring war on Japan (“fini Japs” when that occurred, Truman had written days before in his diary).

Shortly before eleven o’clock, an information officer from the War Department arrived at the White House bearing bundles of press releases. A few minutes later, assistant press secretary Eben Ayers began reading the president’s announcement to about a dozen members of the Washington press corps.

The atmosphere was so casual, and the statement so momentous, that the reporters had difficulty grasping it. “The thing didn’t penetrate with most of them,” Ayers later remarked. Finally, they rushed to call their editors, and at least one reporter found a disbeliever at the other end of the line. The first few sentences of the statement set the tone:

“Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. ...The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. ...It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.”

Although details were modified at the last moment, Truman’s four-page statement had been crafted with considerable care over many months. From its very first words, however, the official narrative was built on a lie. Hiroshima was not an “army base” but a city of 350,000. It did contain one important military base, but the bomb had been aimed at the very center of a city (and far from its industrial area). This was a continuation of the American policy of bombing civilian populations in Japan to undermine the morale of the enemy. It was also to take advantage of what those who picked the target called the special “focusing effect” provided by the hills which surrounded the city on three sides. This would allow the blast to bounce back on the city, destroying more of it, and its citizens.

Perhaps 10,000 military personnel lost their lives in the bomb but the vast majority of the dead in Hiroshima would be women and children. Also: at least a dozen American POWs. When Nagasaki was A-bombed three days later it was officially described as a “naval base.” Film footage shot by the Japanese and later the Americans showing the full extent of the human damage would be suppressed by the U.S. for decades. (See some of the footage in video below or here.)

There was something else missing in Truman’s announcement: Because the president in his statement failed to mention radiation effects, which officials knew were horrendous, the imagery of just a bigger bomb would prevail in the press. Truman described the new weapon as “revolutionary” but only in regard to the destruction it could cause, failing to mention its most lethal new feature: radiation.

Many Americans first heard the news from the radio, which broadcast the text of Truman’s statement shortly after its release. The afternoon papers quickly arrived with banner headlines: “Atom Bomb, World’s Greatest, Hits Japs!” and “Japan City Blasted by Atomic Bomb.” The Pentagon had released no pictures, so most of the newspapers relied on maps of Japan with Hiroshima circled.

It wasn’t until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government’s press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S. newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed by the Pentagon several hours after the president’s announcement.

Many of them written by one man: W.L. Laurence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, “embedded” with the atomic project. General Leslie Groves, military director of the Manhattan Project, would later reflect, with satisfaction, that “most newspapers published our releases in their entirety. This is one of the few times since government releases have become so common that this has been done.”

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the nuclear narrative (see much more on this in my new book, Atomic Cover-up and e-book).

One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president’s official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice “tense with excitement,” personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. “The experiment,” he announced, “has been an overwhelming success.”

The sailors were said to be “uproarious” over the news. “I guess I’ll get home sooner now,” was a typical response. (Whether the declaration of war by the Soviets might have produced surrender in a few days or weeks remains an open question.) Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman’s reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: “This is the greatest thing in history!”

Greg Mitchell’s new book is “Atomic Cover-up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made.” Also in e-book editions. His email is epic1934@aol.com.


Marquez and Kurosawa on Hiroshima

One of the greatest novelists of the past century, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died four years ago at the age of 87.  I join hundreds of millions in declaring his One Hundred Years of Solitude one of my all-time 20 favorite novels.  He was, of course, extremely outspoken about American wars in his part of the world, the Pinochet coup, and much more,  displeasing many Americans, of course.  And he had a long interest in one of my pet subjects--controlling nuclear weapons, and exposing truths about Hiroshima.  His famous speech marking one of the anniveraries of the Hiroshima attack was titled "Cataclysm of Damocles."

Here is part of a transcript from a dialogue he conducted with my favorite director, also at times obsessed with The Bomb, Akira Kurosawa.  It was at the time of his very late film, Rhapsody in August, set in Nagasaki.  They even refer more than once to the focus of my recent book, Atomic Cover-up.  The full interview is here.
Marquez: What does that historical amnesia mean for the future of Japan, for the identity of the Japanese people?

Kurosawa: The Japanese don't talk about it explicitly. Our politicians in particular are silent for fear of the United States. They may have accepted (President Harry) Truman's explanation that he resorted to the atomic bomb only to hasten the end of the World War. Still, for us, the war goes on. The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.

Marquez: The most rational explanation seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.

Kurosawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging (war).

Marquez: Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It's something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then: Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kurosawa: It's hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don't want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can't stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the U.S. forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens this drama will not be over.

Marquez: That far? Couldn't the misfortune be compensated for by a long era of happiness?

Kurosawa: The atomic bomb constituted the starting point of the Cold War and of the arms race, and it marked the beginning of the process of creation and utilization of nuclear energy. Happiness will never be possible given such origins.

Marquez: I see. Nuclear energy was born as a cursed force, and a force born under a curse is a perfect theme for Kurosawa. But what concerns me is that you are not condemning nuclear energy itself, but the way it was misused from the beginning. Electricity is still a good thing in spite of the electric chair.

Kurosawa: It is not the same thing. I think nuclear energy is beyond the possibilities of control that can be established by human beings. In the event of a mistake in the management of nuclear energy, the immediate disaster would be immense and the radioactivity would remain for hundreds of generations. On the other hand, when water is boiling, it suffices to let it cool for it to no longer be dangerous. Let's stop using elements which continue to boil for hundreds of thousands of years.

Marquez: I owe a large measure of my own faith in humanity to Kurosawa's films. But I also understand your position in view of the terrible injustice of using the atomic bomb only against civilians and of the Americans and Japanese colluding to make Japan forget. But it seems to me equally unjust for nuclear energy to be deemed forever accursed without considering that it could perform a great non-military service for humanity. There is in that a confusion of feelings which is due to the irritation you feel because you know Japan has forgotten, and because the guilty, which is to say, the United States, has not in the end come to acknowledge its guilt and to render unto the Japanese people the apologies due to them.

Kurosawa: Human beings will be more human when they realize there are aspects of reality they may not manipulate. I don't think we have the right to generate children without anuses, or eight-legged horses, such as is happening at Chernobyl. But now I think this conversation has become too serious, and that wasn't my intention.

Marquez: We've done the right thing. When a topic is as serious as this, one can't help but discuss it seriously. Does the film you are in the process of finishing cast any light on your thoughts in this matter?

Kurosawa: Not directly. I was a young journalist when the bomb was dropped, and I wanted to write articles about what had happened, but it was absolutely forbidden until the end of the occupation. Now, to make this film, I began to research and study the subject and I know much more than I did then. But if I had expressed my thoughts directly in the film, it could not have been shown in today's Japan, or anywhere else.

Marquez: Do you think it might be possible to publish the transcript of this dialogue?

Kurosawa: I have no objection. On the contrary. This is a matter on which many people in the world should give their opinion without restrictions of any sort.

Marquez: Thank you very much. All things considered, I think that if I were Japanese I would be as unyielding as you on this subject. And at any rate I understand you. No war is good for anybody.

Kurosawa: That is so. The trouble is that when the shooting starts, even Christ and the angels turn into military chiefs of staff. 
Poster for Kurosawa's mid-1950s anti-bomb film, with Toshiro Mifune:



Marquez: What does that historical amnesia mean for the future of Japan, for the identity of the Japanese people?

Kurosawa: The Japanese don't talk about it explicitly. Our politicians in particular are silent for fear of the United States. They may have accepted (President Harry) Truman's explanation that he resorted to the atomic bomb only to hasten the end of the World War. Still, for us, the war goes on. The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.

Marquez: The most rational explanation seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.

Kurosawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging (war).

Marquez: Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It's something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then: Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kurosawa: It's hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don't want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can't stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the U.S. forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens this drama will not be over.

Marquez: That far? Couldn't the misfortune be compensated for by a long era of happiness?

Kurosawa: The atomic bomb constituted the starting point of the Cold War and of the arms race, and it marked the beginning of the process of creation and utilization of nuclear energy. Happiness will never be possible given such origins.

Marquez: I see. Nuclear energy was born as a cursed force, and a force born under a curse is a perfect theme for Kurosawa. But what concerns me is that you are not condemning nuclear energy itself, but the way it was misused from the beginning. Electricity is still a good thing in spite of the electric chair.

Kurosawa: It is not the same thing. I think nuclear energy is beyond the possibilities of control that can be established by human beings. In the event of a mistake in the management of nuclear energy, the immediate disaster would be immense and the radioactivity would remain for hundreds of generations. On the other hand, when water is boiling, it suffices to let it cool for it to no longer be dangerous. Let's stop using elements which continue to boil for hundreds of thousands of years.

Marquez: I owe a large measure of my own faith in humanity to Kurosawa's films. But I also understand your position in view of the terrible injustice of using the atomic bomb only against civilians and of the Americans and Japanese colluding to make Japan forget. But it seems to me equally unjust for nuclear energy to be deemed forever accursed without considering that it could perform a great non-military service for humanity. There is in that a confusion of feelings which is due to the irritation you feel because you know Japan has forgotten, and because the guilty, which is to say, the United States, has not in the end come to acknowledge its guilt and to render unto the Japanese people the apologies due to them.

Kurosawa: Human beings will be more human when they realize there are aspects of reality they may not manipulate. I don't think we have the right to generate children without anuses, or eight-legged horses, such as is happening at Chernobyl. But now I think this conversation has become too serious, and that wasn't my intention.

Marquez: We've done the right thing. When a topic is as serious as this, one can't help but discuss it seriously. Does the film you are in the process of finishing cast any light on your thoughts in this matter?

Kurosawa: Not directly. I was a young journalist when the bomb was dropped, and I wanted to write articles about what had happened, but it was absolutely forbidden until the end of the occupation. Now, to make this film, I began to research and study the subject and I know much more than I did then. But if I had expressed my thoughts directly in the film, it could not have been shown in today's Japan, or anywhere else.

Marquez: Do you think it might be possible to publish the transcript of this dialogue?

Kurosawa: I have no objection. On the contrary. This is a matter on which many people in the world should give their opinion without restrictions of any sort.

Marquez: Thank you very much. All things considered, I think that if I were Japanese I would be as unyielding as you on this subject. And at any rate I understand you. No war is good for anybody.

Kurosawa: That is so. The trouble is that when the shooting starts, even Christ and the angels turn into military chiefs of staff. - See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/03/gabriel-garcia-marquez-birthday.html#sthash.Mb3Yy7yL.dpuf

The Photographer and the Flash

Yoshito Matsushige, a photographer for the Chugoku Shimbun, took the only pictures in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, that have surfaced since. It was these five photos LIFE magazine published on September 29, 1952, hailing them as the "First Pictures - Atom Blasts Through Eyes of Victims," breaking the long media blackout on graphic images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On August 6, 1945, Matsushige wandered around Hiroshima for ten hours, carrying one of the few cameras that survived the atomic bombing and two rolls of film with twenty-four possible exposures. This was no ordinary photo opportunity. He lined up one gripping shot after another but he could only push the shutter seven times. When he was done he returned to his home and developed the pictures in the most primitive way, since every dark room in the city, including his own, had been destroyed. Under a star-filled sky, with the landscape around him littered with collapsed homes and the center of Hiroshima still smoldering in the distance, he washed his film in a radiated creek and hung it out to dry on the burned branch of a tree.

Five of the seven images had survived, and they are all the world will ever know of what Hiroshima looked like on that day. Only Matsushige knows what the seventeen photos he didn't take would have looked like. Even more graphic film footage, remained hidden for decades (as I probe in my new book Atomic Cover-up).
.
Two of his pictures have been widely reprinted in magazines and books. In one, a ragged line of bomb victims sit along the side of Miyuki Bridge, two miles from ground zero, legs folded to their chests. It's hard to tell if it is torn clothing or skin that hangs from them in tatters. No one cries out. They simply stare at what lies across the bridge: a tornado of flame and smoke rushing toward the suburbs. The second picture is a tighter version of the first, focusing on a policeman and a few school girls standing in the center.

All of the figures in the two photos have their backs to the photographer and are staring at the approaching holocaust. Although many in these images no doubt died later, neither of these pictures shows a single corpse. Yet the two photos capture the horror of the atomic bombing better than any panoramic image of twisted buildings and rubble (and so, like the film footage, they had to be suppressed in America for many years). Perhaps that is because the people in Matsushige's pictures are feeling more than the lingering effects of the blast -- they are still experiencing the bomb itself. "Little Boy" has not yet finished with them or their city. The terror evident in the way the victims are standing or sitting in these grainy black and white photographs says more about the human response to the monstrous unknown than any Hollywood recreation.

And because the photographer has the same perspective as his victims we see what they see. We are on that road to Hiroshima, three hours after the bomb fell, staring into the black whirlwind.

The pictures are so affecting because ever since that day, all of us have, in a sense, been standing on that road to Hiroshima, alive but anxious, and peering into the distance at the smoke and firestorm.

When Matsushige, then retired came to meet me in an eighth-floor conference room at his old newspaper -- a small man, dapper in white shoes -- he explained that he could not take more photos that day because "it was so atrocious" and he was afraid burned and battered people "would be enraged if someone took their picture." He tried to capture more images but he could not "muster the courage" to press the shutter.

A few weeks later, the American military confiscated all of the post-bomb prints, just as they seized the Japanese newsreel footage, "but they didn't ask for the negatives," Matsushige said, grinning like a cat. These were the pictures that caused a stir worldwide when they appeared in Life seven years later.  No photographic images of Nagasaki taken on August 9 have survived.  And the U.S. suppressed film footage shot by our own military for decades.

"Sometimes I think I should have gathered my courage and taken more photos, but at other times I feel I did all I could do," he added. "I could not endure taking any more pictures that day. It was too heartbreaking." With that, Matsushige packed up his belongings, bowed deeply, and left the room, vibrant in straw hat, blue suit and bright white shoes, carrying in his arms a portfolio of pictures that are utterly unique, and must remain so.

Greg Mitchell's new book and e-book  is ""Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made (Sinclair Books).

Inside a Mound in Hiroshima

In the northwestern corner of the Hiroshima Peace Park, amid a quiet grove of trees, the earth suddenly swells. It is not much of a mound -- only about ten feet high and sixty feet across. Unlike most mounds, however, this one is hollow, and within it rests perhaps the greatest concentration of human residue in the world.

Grey clouds rising from sticks of incense hang in the air, spookily. Tourists do not dawdle here. Visitors searching for the Peace Bell, directly ahead, or the Children's Monument, down the path to the right, hurry past it without so much as a sideways glance. Still, it has a strange beauty: a lump of earth (not quite lush) topped by a small monument that resembles the tip of a pagoda.

On one side of the Memorial Mound the gray wooden fence has a gate, and down five steps from the gate is a door. Visitors are usually not allowed through that door, but occasionally the city of Hiroshima honors a request from a foreign journalist.

Inside the mound the ceiling is low, the light fluorescent. One has to stoop to stand. To the right and left, pine shelving lines the walls. Stacked neatly on the shelves, like cans of soup in a supermarket, are white porcelain canisters with Japanese lettering on the front. On the day I visited, there were more than a thousand cans in all, explained Masami Ohara, a city official. Each canister contained the ashes of one person killed by the atomic bomb.

Behind twin curtains on either side of an altar, several dozen pine boxes, the size of caskets, were stacked, unceremoniously, from floor to ceiling. They hold the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb. If, in an instant, all of the residents of Wilmington, Delaware, or Santa Fe, New Mexico, were reduced to ashes, and those ashes carried away to one repository, this is all the room the remains would require.

More than 100,000 in Hiroshima were killed by The Bomb, the vast majority of them women and children, plus elderly males.  Fewer than one in ten were in the military. 

Most of those who died in Hiroshima were cremated quickly, partly to prevent an epidemic of disease. Others were efficiently turned to ash by the atomic bomb itself, death and cremation occurring in the same instant. Those reduced by human hands were cremated on makeshift altars at a temple that once stood at the present site of the mound, one-half mile from the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

In 1946, an Army Air Force squad, ordered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to film the results of the massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Japanese cities during World War II, shot a solemn ceremony at the temple, capturing a young woman receiving a canister of ashes from a local official. That footage, and all of the rest that they filmed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealing the full aftermath of the bombings, would be suppressed by the United States for decades (as I probe in my book Atomic Cover-Up).

Later that year, survivors of the atomic bombing began contributing funds to build a permanent vault at this site and, in 1955, the Memorial Mound was completed. For several years the collection of ashes grew because remains of victims were still being found. One especially poignant pile was discovered at an elementary school.

The white cans (that's my photo) on the shelves have stood here for decades, unclaimed by family members or friends. In many cases, all of the victims' relatives and friends were killed by the bomb. Every year local newspapers publish the list of names written on the cans, and every year several canisters are finally claimed and transferred to family burial sites. Most of the unclaimed cans (a total of just over 800 in 2010, for example) will remain in the mound in perpetuity, now that so many years have passed.

They are a chilling sight. The cans are bright white, like the flash in the sky over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. From all corners of the city the ashes were collected: the remains of soldiers, physicians, housewives, infants. Unclaimed, they at least have the dignity of a private urn, an identity, a life (if one were able to look into it) before death.

But what of the seventy thousand behind the curtains? The pine crates are marked with names of sites where the human dust and bits of bone were found -- a factory or a school, perhaps, or a neighborhood crematory. But beyond that, the ashes are anonymous. Thousands may still grieve for these victims but there is no dignity here. "They are all mixed together," said Ohara, "and will never be separated or identified." Under a mound, behind two curtains, inside a few pine boxes: This is what became of one-quarter of the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 1 Day

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.    I've written  three books and ebooks on the subject including   Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton) and Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military). My photo taken on a later August 6, at left.

August 5, 1945:

  —Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third. The aiming point was directly over the city, not the military base or industrial quarter, guaranteeing the deaths of tens of thousands of women and children.   The surrounding hills, it was known, would provide a "focusing effect" that would kill more.

—Pilot Paul Tibbets formally named the lead plane in the mission, #82, after his mother, Enola Gay. A B-29 that would take photos on the mission would be named Necessary Evil.

—Also on Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General Curtis LeMay to make the call. At 3:30 p.m., in an air-conditioned bomb assembly hut, the five-ton bomb as loaded (gently) on to a trailer. Crew members scribbled words onto the bomb in crayon, including off-color greetings for the Japanese. Pulled by a tractor, accompanied by a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles, the new weapon arrives at the North Field and is lowered into the bomb pit.

--The bomb is still not armed. The man who would do, before takeoff, according to plan, was Parsons. But he had other ideas, fearing that the extra-heavy B-29 might crash on takeoff and taking with it “half the island.” He asked if he could arm the bomb in flight, and spent a few hours—on a hot and muggy August day—practicing before getting the okay.

—Pilot Tibbets tries to nap, without much success. Then, in the assembly hall just before midnight, he tells the crew, that the new bomb was “very powerful” but he did not mention the words “nuclear,” “atomic’ or “radiation.” He calls forward a Protestant chaplain who delivers a prayer he’d written for this occasion on the back of an envelope. It asks God to “to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies.”

— The Soviets are two days from declaring war on Japan and marching across Manchuria. Recall that Truman had just written in diary "Fini Japs" when the Soviets would declare war, even without the Bomb.  (See new evidence that it was the Soviet declaration of war, more than the atomic bombing, that was the decisive factor in Japan's surrender.)

 —Halfway around the world from Tinian, on board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes.  His announcement on the bombing--calling the large city merely a "military base"--has already been written.  Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 2 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.   I've written  three books on the subject including  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton) and Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military). 

August 4, 1945:

—On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. With the weather clearing near Hiroshima, still the primary target, taking off the night of August 5 appears the most likely scenario. Secretary of War Stimson writes of a “troubled” day due to the uncertain weather, adding: “The S-1 operation was postponed from Friday night [August 3] until Saturday night and then again Saturday night until Sunday.”

—Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third.

--Gen. Douglas MacArthur,  who directed the U.S. war in the Pacific, and would soon become the head of our occupation of Japan, had still not been told of the existence and planned use of the new bomb.  Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal:  "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."  As we noted earlier, both General Eisenhower and Truman's top aide, Admiral Leahy, both protested the use of the bomb against Japan in advance.

—Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay, finally briefs others in the 509th Composite Group who will take part in the mission at 3 pm. Military police seal the building. Tibbets reveals that they will drop immensely powerful bombs, but the nature of the weapons are not revealed, only that it is “something new in the history of warfare.” When weaponeer Deke Parsons says, “We think it will knock out almost everything within a three-mile radius,” the audience gasps.

Then he tries to show a film clip of the recent Trinity test—but the projector starts shredding the film. Parsons adds, “No one knows exactly what will happen when the bomb is dropped from the air,” and he distributes welder’s glasses for the men to wear. But he does not relate any warnings about radioactivity or order them not to fly through the mushroom cloud.

 —On board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes and plays poker with one of the bomb drop’s biggest booster, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes. Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.  Hence: assembly-line massacre in Nagasaki.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 4 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.  Here's yesterday's report.  I've written  three books on the subject including  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), and  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military).

August 2, 1945

—Early today, Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay (named after his mom) on the first mission, reported to Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Air Force headquartters on Guam. LeMay told him the “primary” was still Hiroshima. Bombardier Thomas Ferebee pointed on a map what the aiming point for the bomb would be—a distinctive T-shaped bride in the center of the city, not the local army base. “It’s the most perfect aiming I’ve seen in the whole damned war,” Tibbets said. But the main idea was to set the bomb off over the center of the city, which rests in kind of a bowl, so that the surrounding hills would supply a “focusing effect” that would lead to added destruction and loss of life in city mainly filled by women and children.

—By 3 p.m., top secret orders were being circulated for Special Bombing Mission #13, now set for August 6, when the weather would clear. The first alternate to Hiroshima was Kokura. The second, Nagasaki. The order called for only “visual bombing,” not radar, so the weather had to be okay. Six planes would take part. Two would escort the Enola Gay, one would take photos, the other would be a kind of mobile lab, dropping canisters to send back scientific information.

—Meanwhile, three B-29s arrived at Tinian carrying from Los Alamos the bomb assemblies for the second Fat Man device (which would use plutonium, the substance of choice for the future, unlike the uranium bomb meant for Hiroshima). 

 —Japanese cables and other message intercepted by the United States showed that they were still trying to enlist the Soviets' help in presenting surrender terms--they would even send an envoy--but were undecided on just what to propose. The Russians, meanwhile, were just five days from declaring war on Japan.

--Top U.S. officials were on now centering on allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor when they give up.  In his diary Secretary of War Stimson endorses a key report which concludes: "The retention of the Emperor will probably insure the immediate surrender of all Japanese Forces outside the home islands."  Would offering that win a swift Japanese surrender--without the need to use the bomb?  Not considered.

—Six years ago earlier on this day, August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt stating the Germans were trying to enrich uranium 235—and that this process would allow them to build an atomic bomb. This helped spark FDR’s decision to create the Manhattan Project. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 6 Days


Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military).

July 31, 1945:

--In Germany, Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Truman--and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer during the war--continues to privately express doubts about the bomb, that it may not work and is not needed,  in any case. (Gen. Eisenhower had just come out against using the Bomb.)  Leahy would later write in his memoirs: 

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

--The assembly of Little Boy is completed. It is ready for use the next day.  But a  typhoon approaching Japan will likely prevent launching an attack. Several days might be  required for weather to clear.

--Secretary of War Stimson sends semi-final draft of statement for Truman to read when first bomb used and he has to explain its use, and the entire bomb project, to the U.S. and the world, with this cover note: "Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night.  The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time."
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.